Sept. 24, 2009
A federal bankruptcy judge cleared the way Thursday for the Tribune Co. to sell the Chicago Cubs and the storied Wrigley Field to the family of billionaire and longtime fan Joe Ricketts.
Judge Kevin J. Carey authorized Tribune to sell the family a 95 percent stake in the team, the stadium and related sports properties for $845 million.
The deal also needs approval from three-quarters of Major League Baseball’s 30 team owners. The owners have not scheduled a vote on the Cubs sale, although one could come as soon as their meeting in November.
The Tribune plan calls for a separate bankruptcy filing by Chicago National League Ball Club, an affiliate not involved in Tribune’s current Chapter 11 case. The Cubs bankruptcy proceedings should last only a few days but is needed to ensure that sale is free of all liens and claims and that existing contracts can be transferred to the new owner.
Chicago-based Tribune, which owns the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, other newspapers and TV properties, bought the Cubs in 1981 from candy maker Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. for $20.5 million.
Tribune had announced on Opening Day in 2007 that the marquee franchise and historic ballpark would be sold at the end of that season. But the process was slowed by CEO Sam Zell’s efforts to maximize sale profits, the collapse of the credit markets and Tribune’s 2008 bankruptcy filing.
The Ricketts family, tentatively selected as the winning bidder last January, had agreed to pay about $900 million for the package. But that total was renegotiated, with Tribune retaining a small stake for tax purposes.
The sale figure exceeds the record $660 million paid for the Boston Red Sox, its ballpark and its TV network in 2002. The New York Times Co. is exploring a sale of its 17.8 percent stake in the properties.
Ricketts is founder of Omaha, Neb.-based online brokerage TD Ameritrade Holding Corp.